From India to Israel-Palestine: Spatialities of Domination and Resistance

by Chandni Desai
University of Toronto

The SECT seminar – Spaces of Resistance – was incredibly rich as the presentations and discussions led to speaking about and theorizing various spaces of resistance which included: the square, the neighborhood, the city, the street, the prison, the cafe, the body, monuments, walls, borders and the imaginary. The thread that seemed to weave each presentation and discussion together was the relationship between the production of space(s), neoliberal capital, and resistance. During the seminar David Theo Goldberg emphasized using a relational approach when comparing spaces as it would allow an understanding of how the production of space and its logics draw and inform each other. As such, in this short reflection I will attempt to think through resistance and spatiality in the forests of central India in relation to the politics of Israel-Palestine (spaces I have been trying to make sense of in my work). In doing so, I will attempt to apply the following concepts raised in the seminar which include: (1) state-making is war making (Wilson Gilmore); (2) occupying; (3) legibility/illegibility of space (Makdisi); (4) militarized sociality (Goldberg); and (5) Agamben’s notion of the state of exception.

While walking through the forested Hezbollah war museum in Mleeta, discourses of being masters of the land and soil circulated in the warfare narratives of the Hezbollah tour guides. This made evident the importance of the forest as a space of contestation and resistance in Hezbollah’s strategy against Israel. Israel has its own strategy of using trees – deforesting olive trees and replanting pines – by removing the visual presence of Palestinian existence in claims for space, and waging war for the overhauling of land(scape). Correspondingly, the Hezbollah also uses the forest and its trees as a central part of its warfare/resistance strategy, as fighters create(d) spaces of refuge for training and hiding their militants, and storing ammunition under the canopy of the forest. In this simulated battleground, I began to think relationally of the forest belt of central India, particularly the forest of Dantewada in the state of Chhattisgarh, where one of the most spectacular sites of struggle is being staged.

The forest of Dantewada, like Tahrir square, is a space that has been occupied by the local people who are predominantly Adivasi people (various tribes of Indigenous people) who are known as the “Naxalites” and/or “Maoists” and are amongst the poorest in the nation. The Maoist guerillas are fighting the state and massive multinational corporations to stop them from annihilating their forests and space(s) of inhabitation. This is because the Adivasi people, forested heartland, and minerals (bauxite, ironore, copper, gold and diamonds) are spatially all stacked upon one another. As the forests resources are lucrative for the accumulation of capital, the Indian government has signed hundreds of clandestine agreements – Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) – with mining and infrastructure companies, and have tried to make legible what is not legible: multinational ownership of forested land, waters and mountains. Since the MOUs have yet to be translated into capitalthis translation requires the “unstacking” and “sorting” of the forested landscape by cleansing the people off the land, through military means, for the sake of India’s neoliberal economic “development,” “growth,” and “security”.

The state and media have declared that the Maoists are “terrorists” and are the largest internal “security threat” to India, much as Palestinians are cast as terrorists. Under this premise, the Indian government has attempted to militarize the sociality of Dantewada’s inhabitants through Operation Greenhunt. The discourse of “security” provides the state justification for various spatial policies and (re)-arrangements and is part of neoliberalism’s regime of control. For example, in the case of Palestine, security reasoning gave Israel the legitimacy to construct an illegal separation barrier in order to confiscate land and create a spatial division between “secure zones” and “insecure” ghettoized zones, in which the former is always under constant threat from those that inhabit the latter.  In the context of the Dantewada forest, the forest has been discursively produced as an “insecure” zone filled with Maoists – the “bad” national subjects. As a result, the Indian police and paramilitary forces have cordoned off the forest to temporally keep the illegible in, so military drones can eventually bombard and (ethnically) cleanse the area. The cordoning strategy disallows Maoist access to food, medicines, and basic necessities, basically placing the forested area under siege, again much like Gaza. Moreover, school buildings have been emptied out and are used as barracks, and fort-like structures surrounded with barbed wire are used for the creation of “secure” zones for police/paramilitary protection and hiding. What is kept hidden is the production of “insecurity” vis-a-vis violence by the state and various corporations through their sponsored armed vigilante group called the Salwa Judum (also made up of Adivasis). The Salwa Jadum have been burning and looting villages, raping women, and incarcerating or killing Adivasis, forcing thousands of them to flee to different states or roadside police camps. Here Ruthie Wilson Gilmore’s notion that “state-making is war-making” becomes clear as Operation Greenhunt serves to exemplify this notion, in which the making of the neoliberal, superpower Indian state is inherently linked to war-making. In her essay Walking with the Comrades (2009), Arundhati Roy suggests that India has exported technologies of violence from Israel, as the Israeli Mossad is training the top police/military officials leading Operation Greenhunt. Moreover, Israel is supplying India with new hardware – drones, laser range finders, and thermal imaging equipment – the same technologies of warfare it has used and continues to use to annihilate the Palestinians from their landscape. This suggests that domination always has a geography and spatiality, and where interests of capital converge, the spatial logics of neoliberalism and domination are globalized and shared.

While the Indian government is waging a war on its own people, members of the corporate media have condemned the Maoists for their armed struggle strategy and question the rejection of Gandhian non-violence. Through our seminar discussions, I came to understand that non-violent resistance requires an audience in order for resistance to be(come) legible. Since the forest does not have an audience, like the public (Tahrir) square for example, it is illegible and therefore demonstrating and occupying of space has to be conducted under a different set of conditions for it to become legible (at least to power). The hungry that are already starving cannot go on hunger strikes. And the poor whose subsistence comes from the forest alone cannot engage in boycott. Thus, occupying entails setting up mobile camps in the forests; possessing arms for self defense from annihilation; placing improvised explosive devices and booby traps to keep the police and paramilitary forces out of the forest area; and the writing of graffiti on walls as a means of communicating with the inhabitants of the forested areas. Domestication in the forest enables the Maoists to sleep, eat, live, train and celebrate life there, as a means of resisting removal from the land. Also, spaces of commemoration are built in the forest, to remember and pay respect to those that were killed/martyred.

Like the Palestinians, the Adivasi people are living in what Agamben conceives as “the camp” where thestate of exception – the cessation of the rule of law by the sovereign (Indian government), – becomes the rule. While Agamben “conceives the camp as a zone of indistinction between the public and the private, fact and norm, or law and life, where inmates are nothing but submissive subjects who follow a myriad of orders and regulations into which the sovereign’s decision on the exception is disseminated” (Hanafi, S.  “Spacio-cide: colonial politics, invisibility and rezoning in Palestinian territory,” Contemporary Arab Affairs,2(1), 2009:  106-121) . Agamben fails to account for the agency of those subjugated. As in the Palestinian refugee camps, the Dantewada forest is also a place of resistance and transgression, where agency should not only be understood as the act of resistance itself, but where agency uses the same mode of power: the state of exception. To resist the militarization of their sociality and spatial reorganization plan of transferring the Adivasi off the land, through forced displacement or genocide, the Maoists have also suspended following the rule of law through the use of armed struggle against the Indian state and its armed forces and vigilantes. In doing so, the Maoist insurgents have not simply imagined the potentiality of resistance but have materially inhabited that potentiality, which domination disallows. As such this inhabitation has allowed them to keep the corporations off their lands (at least for the past six years), though many lives have unfortunately been lost in the process.

As I conclude, I am left with many questions. Whether it is India or Israel, what becomes of the state when war is a condition for its making? What happens to those who inhabit these nation-spaces and what becomes of their resistance? If state-making is inherently linked to war-making, does resistance automatically become constituted as part of war-making? What imaginaries might exist whereby resistance can transcend war?

Photo: Abujhmad, India. Credit: Indian Vanguard